NILES For promoter, it's best to get acts together
There's no vacation in sight for Dominic Baragona until next month, after a rib and music festival in Boardman.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
NILES -- Dominic Baragona usually takes two things with him when he's patrolling the grounds at one of his events -- a two-way radio and his game face.
His mouth is tight, his brows are slightly furrowed and his bespectacled eyes are always scanning the area for something amiss.
You would have that somber expression, too, if you invested months of your time and thousands of dollars into entertaining the masses.
"Get me five miles out of Niles and I'm an extremely different person," he says. "I'm more relaxed, less intense."
Niles is his hometown and the center of his business operations. The radio station owner-turned-concert and event promoter is gearing up for his most ambitious undertaking yet.
Baragona Mid-America Events is coordinating three major concerts and a three-day auto show with live music and celebrity appearances -- all in the next seven days, all at the Cafaro Field complex behind Eastwood Mall, while the Mahoning Valley Scrappers minor league baseball team is on a road trip.
"What I've been telling people is, it's like doing four rib burnoffs in one week," Baragona said. His company's Mahoning Valley Rib Burn Off is held each June outside Eastwood Mall.
The timing had much more to do with the bands' availability than his plans.
Baragona had booked his Automania custom car show at Cafaro at least six months ago, he said.
Meanwhile, he was pursuing big names for concerts. Patrons of his company's teen dances were asked for names of performers they'd like to see. Rapper Ja Rule "just outruled everybody," Baragona said.
Baragona wanted to be the first to stage a classic rock concert at 4-year-old Cafaro Field, where country singer Kenny Rogers, R & amp;B band Kool & amp; the Gang and pop group 98 Degrees have performed. The Beach Boys and Bad Company were on his list of possibilities.
After months of negotiations, nothing was jelling, Baragona recalled. Acts were being snatched up for bigger concerts in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.
Out of the blue, Baragona heard from a Bad Company representative. The band could perform here July 17. "Basically, that was it. That was the day that fit their routing," he said.
After Bad Company was booked, someone called on behalf of the Beach Boys. The only open date was July 21. Baragona decided the concert would complement the car show nicely.
Ja Rule negotiations were the trickiest. Twice, Baragona believed he had snared a booking, only to lose it. Then, in mid-June, Ja Rule's people called to offer July 18.
Of course, Baragona said yes. He shrugs at the fact that dates were dictated to him. "That's the way things pretty much are now," he said. He's more concerned that artists give good shows and fans go home happy.
Baragona's philosophy is, if events take place night after night at Blossom Music Center, Tower City Amphitheatre and Post-Gazette Pavilion, why not here?
One difference is the size of the operations. Clear Channel Entertainment, which books shows at Tower City and Post-Gazette Pavilion, is a national company with scores of employees. Baragona Mid-America Events has seven full-timers and several others who work on an as-needed basis.
"To be sure, everybody at Mid-America wears more than one hat," he said.
Mid-America is also a family operation. Baragona's wife, Barb, is his computer layout specialist and knows what a taskmaster he can be.
"She quits on me every other day," he said with a chuckle. Daughter Tara is "heavily involved," he added, and his brother, Tony, coordinates retail concessions.
Baragona handles promotions and advertising, just as he did during his 25-year career in radio. Baragona owned rock radio station WNCD-FM for many years before he sold it in 1997. It's now owned by Clear Channel Communications.
Baragona has found advantages to having so many shows in a concentrated amount of time. Instead of paying three times for rental of a temporary stage, dressing trailers and portable toilets, he'll pay once. Workers will have to tear down the stage only once, to protect the baseball diamond. He estimates total savings at $30,000.
"In a lot of respects, as long as your tickets are going well, everything else will be handled," he said.
Tickets are moving. More than 4,000 were sold for Ja Rule's concert in a little more than two weeks. "It's the most requested ticket I've ever had," said Baragona, who expects about 7,000 people in all.
Baragona appreciates classic rock, so he's excited about the Bad Company show. "Paul Rodgers has created 12 rock anthems, in my opinion," he said of the lead vocalist and songwriter. He's anticipating an audience of 5,000 for Bad Company and 6,000 for the Beach Boys.
This is crunch time for members of Baragona's support staff, such as Bill and Judy Cannon. "Smokin' Bill" Cannon, Y-103 radio personality, coordinates backstage activities at Mid-America concerts.
Judy Cannon, who works full-time as a retail sales representative, and the couple's 16-year-old daughter are in chart of hospitality for performers and their crews.
Judy Cannon coordinated meals, transportation and special needs last year when Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent performed at a concert festival at Yankee Lake.
"That was hard, two acts on one day. This is five acts. It's very, very crazy," she said. She's been reading and rereading contracts to make sure she hasn't missed any details, she added.
It's a costly week for Baragona, who has insurance for more than $600,000 in expenses (excluding Automania). "Without the insurance, I totally don't think I'd sleep at night," he said. He averages only six hours a night, anyway.
Despite the risks, "I'd rather do this than have a structured life," Baragona said.
After this week, Baragona has one more summer event to promote -- a rib and music festival in August outside Southern Park Mall in Boardman.
Then, Baragona vows, he'll have time to get more than five miles away from Niles. He's planning a trip to Europe, a fishing excursion in the Florida Keys and some boating on Lake Erie and Shenango Lake.